2005 - Three steps back
5-11 record, 3 of 4 in AFC East, 12 of 16 in AFC, 23 of 32 in NFL
The team rode a wave of optimism into Mike Mularkey's second season as Bills coach. The team had done well towards the end of 2004 and expectations were that they would take the next step and finally rejoin the playoff race in 2005. The Bills lost two key defensive contributors when CB Antoine Winfield and DT Pat Williams signed with the VIkings. The Bills also lost OT Jonas Jennings and starting QB Drew Bledsoe was released when Buffalo decided to go with J.P. Losman at quarterback and asked Bledsoe to take a pay cut he would refuse. Travis Henry was also disgruntled due to his loss of playing time to Willis McGahee and the Bills traded the running back to the Titans for a 2006 third round pick. To replace Bledsoe on the roster the Bills signed journeyman QB Kelly Holcomb and also signed OT Mike Gandy to replace the departed Jennings. As a result of the Losman trade the Bills were without a first round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. In the second round the Bills selected WR/KR Roscoe Parrish and in the third added TE Kevin Everett. In the fourth round the Bills took OL Duke Preston. The Bills also signed undrafted free agent safety Jim Leonhard.
J.P. Losman started for the first time in his career against the Houston Texans. Rian Lindell kicked five field goals and Jason Peters caught a touchdown pass in a 22-7 Buffalo win. The Bills defense held the Texans to 120 total yards and Texans QB David Carr to a lowly 12.8 QB rating. The next week the Bills once again had problems finding the end zone managing a single field goal in a 19-3 loss to Tampa. Buffalo's offense gained only 77 yards prior to the final meaningless drive. In a 24-16 loss to the Falcons, Losman threw for only 75 yards and the Bills lost LB Takeo Spikes for the year to an Achilles injury. The Bills fell to 1-3 after a loss to the homeless New Orelans Saints. The game was played in the Alamodome in San Antonio following Hurricane Katrina and J.P Losman once again passed for 75 yards. The offense that had clicked so well for Drew Bledsoe was falling apart in the hands of Losman. After two horrendous outings Losman was benched in favor of Holcomb. Holcomb completed 11 of his first 15 attempts and engineered scoring drives on Buffalo's first three possessions, jumping to a 17-0 lead they would not relinquish in a 20-14 win over the Dolphins. In the next game Buffalo scored 27 points and Holcomb was 18-of-26 for 172 yards with two touchdowns and two INTs. The Bills managed to beat the Jets 27-17 and move into a tie for first in the AFC East at 3-3 but losses to the Raiders and Patriots moved the Bills back to 3-5. In the Patriots game, Holcomb was knocked out from a concussion and Losman came in engineering two scoring drives and making a case to be the starter once more. After the bye the Bills welcomed the Chiefs to Buffalo and Holcomb started the game at QB but was once again knocked out with a concussion. Losman came in and engineered the two Buffalo scoring drives in a 14-3 win over the Chiefs in a game the Bills defense held firm. The next week the Bills defense surrender 48 points to the Chargers in a blowout loss. With that the Bills were 4-6 for the second time in two years. This year, though, the Bills would not make a run at the playoffs. The following week Buffalo scored a measly 9 points in a loss to Carolina despite Losman throwing for a career-high 197 yards. In week 12 Losman and Lee Evans hooked up for three touchdowns in the first quarter before Miami came back in a game that will live in infamy. Miami, led by backup QB Sage Rosenfels, came back and won the game on a last-second touchdown catch by Chris Chambers on fourth and goal, 24-23, scoring three touchdowns in the final quarter. The Bills continued a free fall the next week and got creamed by the Patriots 35-7 in a game without Eric Moulds who was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team. The Bills then lost to Denver to fall to 4-10 before playing their most inspired game of the year. The preceeding week Cincinnatti had clinched their first division championship since 1990 and were in position to get a first round bye with a win over the struggling Bills. Terrence McGee returned an interception and a kickoff for scores and Kelly Holcomb accounted for two touchdowns in an important 37-27 win in Cincinnati. In the final week of the season, Buffalo was playing for pride. The special teams lost some that day when the top kick coverage unit in the league allowed a Leon Washington return score to determine the outcome of the game in a 30-26 loss to the Jets. Right after the season, team owner Ralph Wilson fired General Manager Tom Donahoe. The Bills went 31-49 during Donahoe's tenure -- the 31 wins tied with Cleveland for the third fewest in the NFL during that span.
The biggest change from 2004 to 2005 was the drop in the defense. The unit that had surrendered the second-fewest yards in the league the previous twoi seasons fell to 29 in that category in 2005. The losses of Winfield and Williams in the offseason and Spikes during the season were too much to overcome. The Bills rushing defense ranked 31 in the league and gave up just under 138 yards rushing per game. London Fletcher led the squad with 104 solo tackles and Aaron Schobel sacked opposing QBs 12 times. The Bills offense fell from the top ten in scoring to 24 as a result of the loss of Bledsoe and the lackluster QB play. The team was just 29 in pasing yards. Holcomb and Losman each started 8 games. Holcomb won 4 and lost 4 with a 37% completion percentage aand 10 to 8 TD to INT ratio. Losman was 1-7 as a starter, completed under 50% of his passes, and threw 8 picks and 8 TDs. McGahee was once again solid, rushing for 1247 yards. Moulds and Evans proved to be a formidable duo once again combining for 129 receptions, 1559 yards, and 12 TDs. The only Bill selected to the Pro Bowl was punter Brian Moorman who averaged 45.7 yards per punt and was also named to the All-Pro team. Long snapper Mike Schneck accompanied Moorman to Hawaii as a coach's selection.
In 2005 the Bills added the team's all-time leading rusher to the Wall of Fame when running back Thurman Thomas saw his name honored at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Thomas was the league most valuable player in 1991 and led the league in yards from scrimmage four straight seasons. He rushed for 11,938 yards and 65 TDs as a member of the Bills and caught 456 passes for 4341 yards and 23 more scores. Thomas was a five time Pro Bowl selection, three time All-Pro and was named Offensive Player of the Year in 1992.